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Military in Europe mandates virus quarantine for troops arriving from US, with no exceptions

A medic at the clinic in Wiesbaden, Germany swabs a patient for coronavirus testing, June 12, 2020. Public health officials are expanding testing for the virus and screening personnel as they arrive in Europe. Quarantines will be mandatory for new arrivals from high-risk areas regardless of test results, following a spike in the number of infections, military officials said.

MARCY SANCHEZ/DOD

By JENNIFER H. SVAN AND JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 17, 2020

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KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Troops coming to Europe from the U.S. have to quarantine for 14 days and can no longer test out of it, military officials said Friday as they moved to contain a “significant spike” in coronavirus infections among incoming forces.

Military families and Defense Department civilians coming to Europe from international risk areas for the coronavirus, including the U.S., will also have to quarantine for two weeks, a general order issued by the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Base said.

Personnel arriving from risk areas who are passing through Ramstein en route to a final destination must also quarantine while on base. They may leave their lodging for takeout at the base food court or shopette, but are barred from going to the commissary or the main exchange, the order said.

Ramstein is shifting its posture back to “red,” which includes reintroducing a stop-movement order on official travel to and from the base in southwest Germany.

“Being a red installation will help us manage the inbound flow of travelers and balance our resources, such as lodging and dorms, to ensure we have sufficient space on base for people to quarantine,” officials said in a message posted on the base’s Facebook page.

Ramstein’s red designation will not affect leave policy, they said.

“Members and families already stationed here may continue to take leave outside the local area per previous guidance,” they said on Facebook. “Ensure your destinations are authorized using our Ramstein COVID-19 webpage, and continue to get your commander’s approval beforehand.”

As of Thursday, Ramstein’s COVID-19 page listed 26 countries in Europe as “green” for travel.

U.S. Army Europe also tightened up restrictions, announcing that quarantine waivers will no longer be granted to troops who test negative for the virus on arrival in Germany. Previously, some European commands allowed service members who tested negative to leave quarantine for inprocessing and to run essential errands.

But as of Thursday, all inbound soldiers, including those on temporary duty or returning from leave in the United States, along with Army civilians and their families “will enter into a strict, 14-day” restriction of movement, USAREUR said in a statement. “There are no exceptions to policy authorized.”

Anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus will only be released from quarantine by a public health worker after meeting certain conditions, including two negative tests, 24 hours or more apart, USAREUR said.

The tougher rules were imposed following a “significant spike” in cases of the virus at military installations across Europe in the past week, and instances where personnel have only started showing symptoms eight to nine days after travel, Stuttgart garrison commander Col. Jason Condrey said in a community announcement Thursday.

The only time quarantined personnel will be allowed to leave their hotel room or home is to walk a dog, take out trash or visit the health clinic, Condrey said.

Those who violate the new rules could face consequences, including punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and involuntary early return of dependents, USAREUR said.

Personnel from Public Health Command Europe, who have been screening people as they arrive, have seen “an increasing rate of positive individuals coming from the United States,” said Col. Rodney Coldren, the agency’s chief of preventive medicine services.

But tests have shown “extremely low” infection rates among troops who travel within Europe for training or other purposes, he said.

Commands in the Pacific are also scrambling to contain the virus at their installations, after numerous service members tested positive upon arrival from the U.S.

Military commands in Europe are restricted from providing precise infection data due to operational security.

The new restrictions seek to protect the overseas U.S. military community and to prevent a resurgence of the virus in Germany, Ramstein officials said. Only 534 new cases were reported in Germany on Thursday, said the country’s public health agency, the Robert Koch Institute. Germany has seen just under 202,000 cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic early this year.

In contrast, 77,255 new cases were reported in the U.S. on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases there to nearly 3.6 million, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

As the U.S. military tightened up its restrictions, health officials announced that anyone with a Defense Department ID card may be tested for the virus at Army clinics across Europe, including at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Screening previously was available only to those with symptoms such as a fever and a cough.

No appointments are necessary at LRMC and test results are ready within 24 to 48 hours.

svan.jennifer@stripes.com
Twitter: @stripesktown

vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter; @john_vandiver

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